The Never-Ending Quest for a Simplified SBG System!

Ever since I read amazing physics instructor Frank Noschese's writngs on Standards Based Grading (SBG), I have been obsessed with figuring out a system that works for me.

This 2011 blog outlines my initial attempt. 

This  2018 blog outlines one of many subsequent revisions. 

Today, day 1 of the 2019-2020 school year, and my 19th year in the classroom, I find myself reinventing the SBG wheel once again. I am committed to the process, or some eventual variation of the process for three primary reasons: 

  • I believe in meaningful grading. 
  • I believe in meaningful communication.
  • I believe in simplicity. 

Each iteration is catalyzed by some aspect of the above three rules falling short. 

Either I have, as my first attempt in 2011 demonstrates, overcomplicated the grading process (4.7/5) trying to place a 5 pt scale on a 10 pt scale, or as my 2018 post demonstrates, overcomplicated the student communication piece, forcing students to record their performance on a ridiculously complex spreadsheet. 

Good intentions...bad result. 

I think I'm on to something this year! At least that little pedagogical voice in my gut senses I'm on to something. Here's the plan:

  • Break the year into chunks of information that are small enough to assess, but large enough to maintain content connectivity and communicate meaningfully. Click here for my chemistry syllabus to see this year's standards. 
  • Divide the standards into groups that can be assessed in the context of one inquiry cycle. For example, S1 ad S2 are chunked together in chemistry and will be assessed on one quiz and instructed in the context of one 5E/Hero's Journey. 
  • Organize teaching website, and supplemental material into groups of standards to communicate clearly. Do not break material into units or chapters! S1, S2, replaces "Chapter 1", etc. 
  • Tag questions on quizzes by standards and award subsequent grade 5/10 - 10/10 for each standard (5/10 is same as 0-4/10 so don't EVER award anything lower. Doing so overemphasizes the "F" grade above anything else). 
  • THIS IS THE HUGE CHANGE: When passing back quizzes, have students record THEIR OWN grade using this spreadsheet that clearly indicates that they have 2 attempts, and automatically highlights 9-10 in green, 8-7 in yellow, and 6-5 in red. When reviewing students will see a matrix of colors that clearly communicates standards to review for final assessments, future study, etc.  
  • Update grades to public grade book twice each quarter, which will deemphasize (hopefully) grading, and amplify student tracking and metacognition in a simple way. 
  • Students sign up for reassessment (they can reassess once, with max of 9/10 on reassessment) using thissheet. 

I am hopeful that the combination of simplified, more overarching standards, a more simple and structured way for students to track performance with color codes, and limited recording of public grades with maximum student individual recording of standard performance, will be a system that works for me this year! 

The joys of reflective practice. 

cross posted at

Ramsey Musallam teaches science and robotics at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California, with the aim of fostering inquiry-based learning environments fueled by student curiosity. He presents widely on sparking student curiosity and teaching with technology. Musallam is a Google Certified Teacher, a YouTube Star Teacher, and a Leading Edge Certified Teacher. Watch his TED talk here and read his blog at